Hundreds of Israeli nationalists belonging to far-right groups took part in a flag-raising march in occupied East Jerusalem that the Palestinians deemed provocative.
The new Israeli government agreed to amend the course of the annual march commemorating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
The marchers shouted and whistled and beat drums as they gathered at Bab al-Amud (Damascus Gate) leading to the Old City in East Jerusalem.
The Israeli police clashed with Palestinian demonstrators who were protesting against the march in Jerusalem, which resulted in the injury of a number of them, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. And the police cleared the area around Bab al-Amoud of Jerusalemites before the march reached the place.
The Joint Arab List and the United Arab List in the Knesset had called on Israeli officials to cancel the march, which they described as provocative.
Observers believe that the march may increase the risks of re-igniting tension with the Palestinians and constitute an early challenge to the new Israeli government.
Tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the disputed city of Jerusalem last month contributed to sparking 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.
The wave of fighting killed 260 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the authorities there. Meanwhile, 13 people were killed in Israel, according to the Israeli police and army.
The violence erupted following weeks of steady tension between Israelis and Palestinians that culminated on 10 May in clashes near sites holy to both Muslims and Jews in the Old City.
Israeli police set up barricades at Bab al-Amud to prevent the march from entering the Old City of Jerusalem, which houses places holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians and is the most sensitive area in the more than 70-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Jerusalem is for all religions, but Jerusalem is within Israel. In Israel, we should be able to go anywhere we want with our flag,” said one of the marchers, 50-year-old Doron Avrahami, expressing the right’s frustration with the restrictions imposed on them. imposed by the police.
Palestinians have called for protests in what has been described as a “Day of Rage” in Gaza and the West Bank, with fresh memories of the confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians during Ramadan.
Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said: “We warn of the dangerous consequences that may result from the occupation’s intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to organize a march of flags in occupied Jerusalem.”
Incendiary balloons were launched from Gaza at Israeli communities near the Strip hours before the march was scheduled to begin, causing fires in fields, witnesses and the Israel Fire Service said.
An activist in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza said that the incendiary balloons aim to “warn the occupation against harming Al-Aqsa Mosque or launching its march towards Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Such activities were halted with the cease-fire that ended the fighting between Israel and Gaza last month.
Hamas warned of renewed hostilities because of the march, in a test of the new Israeli government headed by Naftali Bennett, which approved the march with a modification to its route that appears to have been designed to avoid friction with the Palestinians.
Bennett heads a hard-right party, and by diverting the flag march would anger his religious base and expose him to accusations of granting Hamas a veto over events in Jerusalem. But at the same time, he heads a coalition that includes parties from the left, the center, and the Arabs who entered the government for the first time in Israel’s history.
The flags march was originally scheduled to take place on May 10 as a manifestation of the Israeli celebrations of the so-called “Quds Day”, which marks the anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
The route was diverted at the last minute away from the Damascus Gate and the Islamic Quarter, but the move was not enough to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Israel.
Commenting on the Israeli march, Khalil Matwani, a 50-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, says: “They are making a big problem in Jerusalem. All the people here want peace – why are they making trouble here?”
Calls for restraint
Diplomats called on all sides to exercise restraint. Tor Wencesland, the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, wrote on Twitter that “tension is escalating once again in Jerusalem at a fragile and sensitive time in both security and politics, and at a time when the United Nations and Egypt are actively working to strengthen the ceasefire.”
He urged all parties to “act responsibly and avoid any provocation that might lead to another round of confrontations.”
The US embassy told its staff to avoid entering the walled Old City in the heart of East Jerusalem due to the march and “potential counter-demonstrations”.
Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem and then annexed it in a move that did not gain international recognition, considers the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital. While the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, which will include the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The international community believes that the status of Jerusalem should be determined in negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian parties.